Serena Sandhu standing next to the dent in her yard, from one of the sinkholes that have been reappearing in her driveway and front lawn for about five years now due to an aging storm sewer that runs underneath her property.

“How many more years is this going to continue?”: Kitimat resident wants better District response to front yard sinkholes

The sinkholes are caused by an aging storm sewer, which the District says they are working to fix.

The District of Kitimat is working to fix damaged storm sewers around town, after a resident reported multiple sinkholes in her front lawn and driveway due to the aging infrastructure.

Serena Sandhu has lived in her house in Kitimat’s Whitesail neighbourhood for the past seven years and said she wasn’t told about the storm sewer issue until after she and her husband had moved in.

“We had no knowledge of this. Like, the realtor didn’t tell us and we couldn’t visibly, really see it then. I guess maybe it had been repaired previously, I’m not too sure,” Sandhu said. “We were so young, it was our first house, so we didn’t know to look at, like, the District’s records or anything like that, we just didn’t think about it.”

Sandhu said the problems began in 2015, when a large sinkhole appeared in the middle of her front lawn. Unsure of what to do, she called the District to see if they knew what the issue was.

She spoke to Cam McCulley, Director of Public Works at the District of Kitimat, who told her they knew of the issue and were looking into different ways to fix it. However, soon after, multiple holes started appearing on her lawn and driveway, which the District patched up.

“It’s a good thing our vehicle didn’t fall in or something, or like, you could get injured, you know, walking over it, you never know,” Sandhu said.

She says the District has come in to do minor repairs on her driveway and front lawn over the past few years, but the sinkholes keep coming back. She said she feels the District has been giving her the run-around for the past several years, just putting band-aids over the problem instead of dealing with it.

“I have called [McCulley] a couple times, and he took a while to respond or didn’t respond until I called him a second time,” Sandhu said. “If he had really cared and sympathized, I would’ve heard from him.”

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McCulley said the District is currently in the process of getting a contractor to come install a fibreglass liner in the pipe, which will restore it from the inside and keep it restored for a longer period of time. As well, it isn’t just Sandhu’s house that is affected, which means it’s going to be a big job.

“On Bayer/Bartholomew, the storm lines go twelve feet deep or more, so it’s quite deep,’ McCulley said. “So it’s very expensive to dig up. And because multiple places are failing, the cheapest and best way to do it is to put a liner in it.”

McCulley said they’ve been trying to get a contractor in for a couple of years, now. They got a budget approved by Council last year, but he said there was no contractor who accepted at that price.

“Engineering has to get the contract filled. Last year, we tried to do it and it was approved by Council, and the company wouldn’t come here for the amount of money we got,” McCulley said. “They need a fair amount of work to make it worth their while to come to Kitimat, I guess, so we tripled the money that we asked for, [from] Council.”

The tripled budget was approved by Council, and now McCulley said they’re just waiting for the District of Kitimat Engineering Services to get the contract filled.

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McCulley said the reason they’ve only done minor fixes at Sandhu’s house for the time being is because the liner is the only permanent fix. Until the liner is in, it’s going to keep sinking over and over again, which will make a full repair useless.

“I want to get it done. Obviously it’ll better for us in that we won’t have to repair her yard and driveway. Once it’s done, we’ll go in and do it for final and it’ll be good for a long time. Once the sewer’s lined, then we can do the driveway…and their yard and be done with it. But right now, we’re just kind of going in and [doing] patchwork because we know it’s going to continue to sink until it gets lined.”

However, he added that the work is going to be difficult and expensive, due to the depth of the pipe.

“To go down twelve feet deep, you have to go basically twenty-four feet wide, so you’re taking out so much property and the road and everything to get down to fix that,” McCulley said. “We would have to dig up her entire front yard and half the street to get down to it. And that would be, like, the whole street…[and] it’s not that those things don’t fail in other places, they’re just not usually that deep.”

The other issue is that it’s not just Sandhu’s house that’s affected, as the line runs from the Bayer/Bartholomew area, down in a deep gully between the golf course and Baxter Ave.

“It’s not just Serena’s street, I mean there’s problems on Mallard, there’s [other] problems on Bayer/Bartholomew, there’s a couple other spots,” McCulley said. “We tried [fixing] it twice in their yard, we tried it in their neighbour’s yard, and that’s why we know that it’s failing in more spots than one, so we need to get the thing lined, otherwise when we fix those three spots, the next thing you know, it’s in the yard over.”

“Obviously, I hate every time I see Serena call, because I have a terrible answer [for her],” McCulley added. “It’s in Engineering’s house. It’s not like I’m just passing the bucket, but there’s not much else I can do [until we get the contractor].”

Sandhu spoke with McCulley briefly back in May, but said he only gave her vague updates. She then didn’t hear from him again until earlier this week, when he told her all the things he “should’ve told her months ago.”

“He said it’s through the Engineering department and it’s more on their end, but he never ever in the past mentioned that before,” Sandhu said. “I’m like, I’ve never heard [the Engineering Director’s] name in the past. Three or four years we’ve been going back and forth and all of a sudden he wants me to contact this guy…How many more years is this going to continue?”

Going forward, Sandhu said she’s glad she was finally updated on the process and hopes that the District will continue to keep her updated with finding a contractor. However, she said she thinks the District should’ve started this work sooner, not just when it became a big problem for her and for them.

“It should’ve been sooner, you know. Not just ever since I started calling, and then that’s when it seemed like things started moving a little bit, but very slowly and not very much progress,” Sandhu said. “But it seems like if I hadn’t said anything or these things hadn’t collapsed, nothing would’ve happened.”

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Serena Sandhu photo A photo of the 2015 sinkhole that appeared seemingly randomly in Sandhu’s front yard. The sinkhole slowly became bigger until the District came to fix it. But now, it’s starting to sink again.

The patchwork asphalt in Sandhu’s driveway that the District used to temporarily help the issue, until they’re able to get a contractor in to line the storm drain and completely fix Sandhu’s lawn and driveway.

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